Clergy/Laity Distinctions

I was a clergyman

In Christendom today, across the board and in every sect and denomination, there are false, unscriptural and restrictive beliefs about ministry which are having devastating affects upon the Body of Christ. These beliefs are all associated with the most common and prevalent false teaching in Christendom today which is the false distinction between clergy and laity!  I myself was an “ordained clergyman”, a Baptist pastor. My grandfather was a pastor and I have many close friends and brothers in Christ in a wide variety of denominations who are also “clergymen”.  This post is not at all a personal criticism of any of my brothers but simply a plea to evaluate this teaching and practice by the marks of sound doctrine and those of false teachings which we are considering on this blog. (Is it stated in the pure words of God?  Is it stated apart from words additional to His words? Is it stated in words which the Holy Spirit teaches rather than in words which man’s wisdom teaches? Is it taught by the Lord Jesus and His apostles or does it contradict their explicit teachings?)  Rather than being critical of any of my brothers, I want to encourage all my brothers and sisters in Christ that there is a far better way of ministry which is taught explicitly in the very words of scripture

 “Pastoral burnout” is at epidemic proportions while many “church members” are rusting out in the pews.  A recent article by Tim Peters on claims that 1700 pastors “leave the ministry” every month! Different denominations have different criteria for recognizing and approving “ministers”. Therefore those who are recognized as valuable ministers in one camp are despised and would not be given the time of day in another! Most Christians who have been assigned the lowly status of “laymen” have no idea what their spiritual gifts are nor how their Lord expects them to minister to others.

 “One man ministry” is the view that ministry is limited to just one man or woman in a church or congregation. That individual is looked upon and most often referred to as “The Minister”. Many “credentials” and “pre-requisites” are required of one who would attain to the status of “The Minister”. So all others are barred and banned from “the ministry” at least in the sense that this one individual is considered to be “The Minister”!  Those who hold this view maintain many distinctions in the Body of Christ which have no scriptural support.  They clearly distinguish between “clergy” and “laity”, between those who are “called to the ministry” and those who are not, between those who are “in full-time ministry” and those who are not, between those who are “in the work of the Lord” and those who are not, between those who are “servants of the Lord” and those who are not and between those who are salaried/paid for ministry and those who are unpaid volunteers. Yet no such distinctions are found in the pages of the Bible!

 “Ministry of the few” takes a little wider view of “ministry” as it realizes that the ministry in a church/congregation/assembly involves a plurality of people and so recognizes and utilizes more than just one in “ministry”.  Those who adopt this view sincerely believe that some Christians are “gifted for ministry” while many are not.  They also believe that “ministry” is a “public”, “up front” performance from a “pulpit” or “platform”.  Among those who hold this view of ministry there are also very clearly recognized distinctions between a “clergy” class of believers and the “laity”.  There are those who are remunerated for their ministry and those who serve as unpaid volunteers, the “gifted” are granted the right to “public ministry” from pulpits and platforms and the “ungifted” are expected to serve unnoticed, unrecognized and unremunerated behind the scenes in homes, shops, schools, and offices in “secular employment”. But again, none of these ideas are expressed in the scriptures!

But among both of the groups described above there is very clear opposition to the perspective on ministry or service which is described and prescribed by the Lord Jesus and the apostles in the New Covenant scriptures!  The teaching on ministry which the Lord and His apostles clearly set forth is that of…

“Every man ministry”.  

The clearest scriptural teaching which contradicts the fable of the clergy/laity distinction is that found in (1 Peter 4:10,11)  As every man (every one) hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man (any one) speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man (any one) minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

 Then, in the very next chapter, the apostle Peter destroys any claim that elders might make to “clergy status” by telling them not to “lord it over God’s clergy”!  “Clergy” and “laity” are both good Bible words (“clergy” comes from the Greek word KLEROS and the Hebrew word NACHAL which mean “heritage” or “inheritance” and “laity” comes from the Greek word LAOS and the Hebrew word AM which mean “people”), the Bible does not use these two words to distinguish between two groups of people but rather uses them as two designations of the very same group of people!

  In the OT  “NACHAL” and “AM” are used many times of one group of people,the nation of Israel. Many times in the same verse they designate Israel as God’s people and as God’s inheritance. (See such examples in Ex.34:9; Deut.4:20; 9:26,29; 32:9; I Kings 8:51; Ps.28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 94:14; 106:40 & Isaiah 47:6. 

In the NT,   LAOS is used repeatedly of God’s “people”  (Romans 9:26; II Cor.6:16; Hebrews 4:9; 8:10; I Peter 2:10 and Rev.21:3 and KLEROS is used in I Peter 5:3. There the elders of the churches are instructed by Peter not to be lords over God’s “heritage” or clergy but to be examples to the flock.  If church elders are not to be lords over God’s clergy, who are the clergy? They are all the believers of the flock!

 It is true that for Israel, under the Old Covenant given at Sinai, only males of the tribe of Levi between the ages of 20 and 50 could be ministers and only those of the sons of Aaron could be priests. But now for believers, under the New Covenant, all are priests regardless of race, family, age or gender! (See I Peter 2:5-10) Such has nothing whatsoever to do with training, education, credentials or titles!

This view of ministry takes into account all that scripture has to say regarding what God has done for every child of God (from the newest believer to the oldest) and how God has gifted and is equipping every believer regardless of age, education, gender, intellect, race, economic or social status to serve for the benefit of others in the Body and of those who do not yet know the Lord. Once our minds are saturated in the scriptural truths of “every man ministry” we will immediately recognize as lies the following ideas which contradict the scriptures:

– “Most believers are not qualified for ministry.”

– “Most are not gifted for ministry.”

– “Most are not called to ministry.”

– “Most are not capable for ministry.”

– “Most are not educated for ministry.”

– “Most are not called to full-time ministry.”

– “Many are the wrong gender for ministry”.

– “Ministry happens on a platform or proceeds from a pulpit.”

Now you decide…is the common distinction between clergy and laity a sound scriptural doctrine or is it a false teaching having widespread and detrimental affects on believers on both sides of that false distinction?

 If you believe this distinction is taught in scripture, what scriptures do you have in mind which teach it?

 If it is NOT taught in scripture,  and you purposed to follow and obey what IS taught about the ministry of believers who have been brought into the good of the New Covenant…how would this begin to affect your life and ministry to other saints?

 What changes might have to be made? What costs would be involved? What people who are close to you might not understand? 

What questions in your mind would have to be answered by scripture?


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